The Story: A friend and I were lamenting the lack of great seafood restaurants in Portland. No, sushi doesn’t count. Yes, we have Granddad places of varying quality such as Jake’s or Dan & Louis Oyster Bar, Fish n’ Chip shops, and a couple of young gastronomic upstarts (the fancy fish place in Fox Tower downtown for example). And yes, you can get great seafood in markets, a few other carts, and it’s always available on most restaurant menus. But, unlike other port cities such as San Francisco, Seattle, Boston or New Orleans, Portland dining isn’t just very seafood focused. Perplexing.
When Dustin and Angie, the owners of the very new Fishbox cart started daydreaming, FISH is what they came up with, a plan that’s been hatching in Dustin’s head since at least 2003. “I was up on the Columbia River, and it was salmon season, and people were up at Mt. Hood fly fishing for trout, and I thought, man, we have all this seafood around and near Portland, we need a really great fish cart,” Dustin told me in an interview one sunny spring day. He comes from formal culinary school training, and years and years working in Portland’s restaurant industry. Dustin was burned out working for crazy restaurant owners and living the often hard livin’, hard partyin’ restaurant lifestyle. The man knows his way around a kitchen for sure though, and knows how to handle fish dishes. From the food I sampled, he’s a hell of a great cook.
Dustin and his partner Angie took their time opening and have put a lot of thought into the menu and kitchen of this simple white van. It’s a great lesson for other wanna be cart owners. “I wanted to build out my kitchen and truck from scratch so that I have it and the equipment EXACTLY the way I need it. I didn’t inherit bad equipment or a clunky layout, which will save me money and time in the long run, especially when I get ready to expand” Dustin explained. Dustin was also very picky about getting a van, rather than a trailer type cart to offer more mobile flexibility and because a van is easier to move for catering and other special events. Dustin continued, “it was more expensive upfront than a cart and the build out took longer, but I think it will be worth it.”
But how about that fish? It’s not purely focused on wild seafood or local seafood, but it’s super fresh, very high quality and prepared with a light touch. The day I visited, the menu featured items such as a very chunky, very creamy clam chowder as good as anything you’d find at the coast, a wild salmon satay with Asian style pesto served with rice, a textbook Caesar Salad (with option Ahi tuna or wild salmon), an Ahi Tuna melt sandwich, a dark roux non-seafood gumbo, and Wild Salmon or Ahi Tuna seared tacos. “It’s funny because before I opened I was always telling people, I’m NOT going to be a taco truck,” Dustin laughed, “but tacos have turned out to be my biggest seller and most popular item.”
There’s a reason why. These aren’t your regular petite fistful Mexican tacos in corn tortillas, but large gourmet tacos in soft big flour wraps. Bursting with perfectly cooked and seasoned seafood, and a generous amount of lightly dressed slaw, three to an order is worth the $9. I was plenty full after just two.
Food is always the best part about visiting Portland’s intense food cart scene, and the Fishbox keeps its side of the bargain up quite nicely on that end. But the stories behind the carts really make me smile. Everyone is unique, and has a terrific story to tell. We think it’s the people that contribute as much to our vibrant cart community as much as the food does. The Fishbox is yet another wonderful, friendly, and tasty addition to our always cool food cart scene.
Sample Menu (contact vendor for current menu and pricing):
- Seared Ahi Tuna or Wild Salmon Tacos – $9
- New England Style Clam Chowder – small $4, large $6
- Veggie Fried Rice Bowl – $5. With tuna or salmon, $9
- Wild Salmon Satay with Asian pesto and veggie fried rice – $9
Hours: Tues-Sun, 12 – 8pm